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12/11/2013 12:01:00 AM
Gaining that edge: New program looks to enhance customer service in the area

By Christina Rohn,Special to Harbor Light Newspaper

Those who have the edge, never settle for mediocrity.

And that's exactly what the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce has in mind for their new program - Hospitality the Little Traverse Way.

The program, which was launched in June, has the ultimate goal of elevating the "service culture" of the Little Traverse Bay Region.

"Serving our guests is critical to our success as a tourist destination," said Meagan Krzywosinski, chairperson for Hospitality the Little Traverse Way and director of Human Resources for Boyne Resorts. "We need to keep this a priority for the sake of all businesses in the area."

Carlin Smith, president of the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the motivation behind the program came after two of the chamber's trusted customer service facilitators, Bill Quiseng and Steve Rudolph, left the area.

"We felt like we should have something that we own - where we're not at the whim of others," Smith said.

Therefore, the chamber, along with several partners, including - the Petoskey Area Visitor's Bureau, Boyne Resorts, Odawa Casino, Downtown Petoskey Management Board, Stafford's Hospitality, Wine Guys Restaurant Group, the Village at Bay Harbor, Harbor Springs Area Chamber of Commerce and North Central Michigan College - worked together to create a more permanent source for their customer service/hospitality training.

The program has a multi-faceted approach, which includes three key steps: educational programming, quality assurance measurements and business recognition.

Hospitality seminars are part of the educational programming component for both front-of-the-line staff, as well as management-level employees for businesses within the hospitality/tourism industry in the Little Traverse Bay Region.

On Dec. 3, the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted a Hospitality the Little Traverse Way seminar at City Park Grill in Petoskey to more than 30 front-of-the-line employees.

Sally Erickson, a facilitator for Hospitality the Little Traverse Way and contractor, developer and realtor for Port of Old Mission in Traverse City, told participants of the seminar that the Little Traverse Bay Region has the right idea when it comes to hospitality.

"I live in Traverse City, and you've got them beat in friendliness," she said. "Even the big cities too."

During her presentation, Erickson asked participants to write down who they believed were the competitors to the Little Traverse Bay Region's tourism industry.

Examples participants came up with included: Traverse City; Mackinaw City; Mackinac Island; Charleston, S.C.; Italy and cruise ships.

Erickson said, while these destinations may be fierce competitors, hospitality employees in our area have to work even harder to gain that edge.

"We have to be number one in (tourist's) mind - the best in the world," she said. "All these places have to be number two."

William McCullough, a bartender and server for Stafford's Perry Hotel in Petoskey, attended the seminar and said he believes the program will be positive for the area.

"I think their heart is in the right place," he said. "I think having this awareness about hospitality will definitely be advantageous."

McCullough said he believes the seminar touches on the basics of hospitality, but it's up to the employee to put it into practice.

"A lot of (the seminar) was reiterating what I already knew, but I think hearing it again puts it into the forefront of your mind," he said. "You can have all these intellectuals come up with these ideas, but until you use it in the field, you can't really get a sense for how it works."

Smith said in 2014, the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce will begin working heavily to implement the second and third component of the program - quality assurance measurements and business recognition.

Smith said businesses will begin distributing surveys to guests in order to measure their satisfaction.

"We want people to be accustomed to great service everywhere they go," he said. "You can't rest and be comfortable where you are - you have to be better."

And finally, the program will begin to recognize businesses in the Little Traverse Bay Region as "Signature Service Business" once they meet the following criteria: first they must apply, a certain percentage of their staff must go through hospitality training, and their business will be rated by secret shoppers.

Smith said businesses in the area are excited about the "Signature Service Business" title.

"They can use that in their marketing and promotion of their business," he said. "Businesses all felt that would be something their customers would care about - they want to be held to a high standard."

Smith said he believes this program will be integral to the Little Traverse Bay area's efforts to become an example in the tourism industry.

"This project has been huge," he said. "I feel like we've designed something that will be around for many years to come."

For more information about Hospitality the Little Traverse Way, contact the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce at (231) 347-4150.

(Christina Rohn is a freelance writer and occasional contributor to the Harbor Light Newspaper)

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